National Conference on Composting in Bolivia

26 Nov

The second national conference on composting was held in Cochabamba earlier this week in Samay Wasi, a conference center/hotel made from bamboo and logs about 11 kilometers from the city.  It was an interesting mix of city officials, mostly men, and non-profits who gathered together to share technical details of their composting projects.  All the major cities in Bolivia have a composting program, usually where the waste management department and the city work together with a non-profit (the non-profit provides the money and the city provides the cooperation).  A lot of progress has been made in the past year and some cities have impressively sophisticated composting programs.  Highlights of the conference include:

  • Waste in Bolivia is “poor,” meaning that 50-60% is organic, biodegradable food scraps.  Additionally, the disposal of organic waste in landfills, where it can contaminated by toxic waste, such as batteries, to create a disgusting black liquid, called lixivianos in Spanish, or left to decompose anaerobically, buried beneath the ground, is dangerous and generates methane, a greenhouse gas.  For this reason, the municipalities of Bolivia have composting programs, which is usually not a public endeavor in the United States.
  • La Paz has had a lombriculture program (growing worms which can poo compost in 15 days vs. the 6-8 month process of aerobically drying piles of organic waste into compost) for 8 years with tremendous success in breeding worms.  But the worms are starving due to insufficient “food” or collection of organic waste, the majority of which is generated by households which it’s hard to collect from.  This is a bit ironic, especially given that other municipalities of Bolivia, including Cochabamba, are lacking worms for their programs.
  • Santa Cruz has a program that collects organic waste from Mercado Abasto, but the waste has to be resorted after collection and composted.  Cochabamba has a similar program that collects from certain markets for a charge of 1 Bs. from each vendor each market day.
  • In Cochabamba, SwissContact & EMSA, the municipal department in charge of waste management, have rolled out in 3 districts special trash collection trucks which collects all types of waste (recyclables, toxic, and trash) from households, disposing of it properly in Kara Kara, the landfill of Cochabamba, where a composting site is also located. (Kara Kara was envisioned as a barren landfill far away from the city, but squatters have settled their illegally, creating a settlement where inhabitants live off the trash, recycling it to make a living.  Since then, non-profits have built a health center there, as evidence shows that living near a landfill isn’t too healthy.  When we toured Kara Kara, a representative from EMSA said that the residents of Kara Kara were protesting because they wanted more soccer fields [apparently, according to him, Kara Kara has the highest density of soccer fields in Cochabamba]….but I believe the real reason was because Kara Kara wanted more support from the government to improve their living conditions.)
  • Most reiterated theme:  Need for environmental education and the need for Bolivians to take responsibility.  Perhaps it’s a bit cynical, but the prevailing opinion of Bolivians from Bolivians is that many expect free things (esp. from non-profits) and require something for himself to do a social good.  In environmental awareness campaigns that offer prizes/free goods in exchange for recyclable materials such as old plastic bags, batteries, dried flowers to compost, the public has focused on the prize and gone through creative means to get it, such as bringing plastic flowers or buying plastic bags to exchange.  For that reason, municipalities are trending toward the thought that programs should be sustainable (fewer giveaway programs and more education) and businesses should pay to pollute.
  • If you want to recycle organic waste in Cochabamba, you can go to one of the four locations run by EMSA:
  1. Avenida Petrolera (Cerca Al Arco)
  2. Avenida Ingavi (Frente al Surtidor Petrobras)
  3. Laguna Alalay acera norte (frence al Mercado trópico)
  4. Avenida Villarroel y Circunvalación
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